PROVIDENCE — First, he was criminally charged with violating campaign finance laws while running for City Council last year. Then, earlier this month, he was charged with assault, accused of repeatedly punching a man.
Now, steps are being taken to potentially remove Gerard Catala, the relatively new president of the Providence chapter of the NAACP.
The Boston Globe obtained a copy of a survey sent around to NAACP members on Wednesday about the future of Catala’s leadership. The form had two questions: “Should our president receive mentoring from our national office that will strengthen his leadership skills?” and “Should our president be removed from office pursuant to Article 10 of our bylaws?”
The chapter will need to get 20 signatures on a complaint about Catala and send it to the national NAACP office to start the removal process, according to the bylaws.
Catala has been under scrutiny since before he was elected to lead the civil rights group last November. He’s been arrested twice since then, and told the Globe on Thursday he has no plans to step down.
“I don’t need to resign,” Catala said in a phone interview. “There’s been a barrage of letters of support that have been coming in to me over the days and weeks from members, encouraging me to stay in the fight.”
Multiple NAACP members told the Globe this week they believe Catala should resign. The leader of a separate organization, the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, said it would cease to collaborate with the NAACP as long as Catala is president.
“I think the right thing would be for him to step down,” said Angie Lovegrove, a member of the Providence NAACP chapter. “It’s overshadowing what the NAACP represents.”
Lovegrove said she has pulled back from active participation in the chapter since Catala took over as president. She is no longer attending the monthly meetings he leads. “I just can’t do it anymore,” she said.
“We’re looking at the NAACP president in cuffs again on television,” Lovegrove said, adding that she was “exasperated” by news of the second arrest. “Come on.”
Catala was arrested on August 16 after allegedly assaulting a man at Catala’s home. The Providence Police report said officers found the man “visibly bleeding from his nose,” noting his “face was covered in blood and he had blood on his hands.”
The alleged victim told police Catala punched him in the face, causing him to fall down. “Once on the ground, [he] stated that Catala continued to assault him on the ground with multiple strikes,” the report said.
Catala denied assaulting the man and would not allow police to view the cameras installed at Catala’s home, according to the report. He was charged with simple assault.
Catala declined to comment on the assault charge, citing the advice of his attorney. He told the Globe the police report was incorrect in saying the alleged victim works for him, but declined to characterize the relationship between the two.
The latest arrest was a violation of Catala’s bail in his other criminal case. Attorney General Peter Neronha charged Catala in January with two counts of failing to file campaign finance reports during his 2022 race for City Council.
The criminal investigation was prompted by the R.I. Board of Elections, which audited Catala’s account from his 2018 campaign, finding he spent more than $7,000 from his campaign account that was not accounted for on campaign finance reports. While the 2018 violations were outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges, Neronha’s office found Catala continued to violate campaign finance law during his 2022 race.
Catala has pleaded not guilty to the charges and declined to comment to the Globe.
After his assault arrest earlier this month, Catala admitted to violating his bail on the earlier charge and was released, according to Neronha’s spokesperson Brian Hodge. Both criminal cases are now pending trial.
Harrison Tuttle, the president of the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, told the Globe he believes Catala should “step away, if not resign” from his position.
“It’s up to the NAACP Providence branch to make that decision, ultimately,” Tuttle said. “It’s very damaging to the reputation of the NAACP here in Providence to see the president come out and have these charges against him.”
He said he was “very concerned” about the most recent assault charge. And while the two organizations often work together on civil rights issues and events such as rallies, Tuttle said “given this situation and its current president at the time, we don’t feel comfortable collaborating with them.”
La’Juan Allen, a board member at the BLM RI PAC, said Catala’s charges are continuing to damage the reputation of the NAACP.
“It’s time for Gerard Catala to step down now,” Allen told the Globe. While he was not previously a member of the organization, Allen said he joined the NAACP this week.
“Leadership demands accountability and ethical conduct,” he added.
Aniece Germain, a Cranston city councilor who is also an NAACP member, told the Globe the allegations are “disturbing.”
“Until he’s proven guilty, he is an innocent man,” Germain said. But she said Catala should step away from his role “for the sake of the organization.” Like some other members, Germain said she has not been attending the chapter meetings since Catala took the helm.
Catala won an election to lead the NAACP Providence by 14 votes last fall, besting longtime former president Jim Vincent, who remains a member. The election was held virtually for the first time, and some complained about the process. Vincent declined to comment for this story.
Speaking to the Globe, Catala said he preferred not to discuss the NAACP’s internal matters.
“It’s not a public matter,” Catala said. “We don’t air our dirty laundry in the streets.”
He noted that “while some people are drafting letters” against him, he is doing work such as giving out scholarships, organizing community cleanups, and working to get out the vote for the upcoming congressional election. “Where’s all the positive press?” he asked.
The national NAACP office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Globe.
The email to local members on Wednesday was sent out by Shirley Francis-Fraser, the second vice president of the Providence branch. She wrote she was “perturbed” about the coverage of Catala in the news.
In additional to the criminal charges, she cited several potential bylaws Catala may have violated, including circumventing the executive board in decision-making and postponing requests to meet about the branch finances.
“While I appreciate our President’s vision and ability to work hard for our branch, I simultaneously have concerns,” Francis-Fraser wrote. “I would therefore, appreciate your participation in a brief poll to receive your feedback.” She included a link to a Google form asking the two questions about potentially removing Catala.
Francis-Fraser could not immediately be reached for comment.
Less than two hours later, another email went out to the members from Siobhan Stephens-Catala, the secretary of the branch and Catala’s wife. The subject line was: “Unauthorized Email to the NAACP Providence Branch.”
“It is my understanding that an email was sent out earlier today without the approval of the Executive Committee concerning the forward movement of the Providence Branch, so much that it circumvented the inclusion of the official NAACP secretary email address,” Stephens-Catala wrote.
“Please disregard that email,” she wrote in bold.